SPAN 300: Cervantes' Don Quixote
|Transcript||Audio||Low Bandwidth Video||High Bandwidth Video|
Cervantes' Don Quixote
SPAN 300 - Lecture 17 - Don Quixote, Part II: Chapters XXII-XXXV
Chapter 1. The Descent into Montesinos Cave: Engaging Main Literary Topics and Sources [00:00:00]
Professor Roberto González Echevarría: So we are going to talk today about two of the most significant episodes of Part II of the Quixote, episodes that mark a transition to — that begin the sort of the down slope of the novel as it moves towards its conclusion. It is a protracted culmination and finale consistent with the slower more deliberate pace of Part II. We will be meeting one character from Part I, who reappears, Ginés de Pasamonte, under the guise of master puppeteer Master Peter, and there will not only be repetitions of episodes from Part I, but even repetitions of episodes from Part II within Part II. After the episodes that I will discuss today, three major new developments occur. First, that Don Quixote will sometimes leave the center of the action to be replaced by Sancho. Second, that both Don Quixote and Sancho become the objects of amusement for frivolous upper class characters who have read Part I. And three, that the protagonist will be surrounded by many more characters than before. The overarching theme of the novel continues to be desengaño as most of the action is staged by internal authors. It is an action that is highly theatrical and the props or backstage of the skits are revealed to the reader, either during the performance or right after.
The first of the two important episodes is the one about Don Quixote’s descent into Montesinos cave, a truly remarkable tour de force and one of the most brilliant scenes in the Western literary tradition. So Montesinos cave, this is one of the principle episodes of Part II and arguably of the entire work because it seems to engage the main literary topics and sources of the novel and also provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Don Quixote’s subconscious. It is as if we were looking behind the scenes of the Quixote or allowed to see its reverse side, as we see the reverse side of that painting within Las Meninas that Velázquez is working on. It is also as if were allowed to dissect the protagonist while he’s still alive. Let us first notice that this is an adventure that Don Quixote seeks, that he looks for it, not one that is imposed on him by chance, like the encounters on the road or by other characters who are scripting his life.
As we have seen, Sansón Carrasco from the very beginning is trying to script Don Quixote’s life, and there will be several author internal authors doing that, but this is not the case at all. This is an episode, an adventure that Don Quixote wants to undertake, and he tells the scholar or the cousin that he wants to do so and asks how to get to Montesinos’ cave. It is also an episode that is strictly Spanish, and that seems to take Don Quixote into the depths of the Spanish soil: it is as if saying that these kinds of fabulous events also happen in Spain and in the present, although, as you will see, and I will speak about the sources of the episode descents into caves and so forth, but this is one that is based on a Spanish tradition; that is, people knew about Montesinos cave and talked about it — they exist — and Don Quixote wanted to go into them; he decided that he had to have this adventure.
One way to see the episode as flowing from Camacho’s wedding — which is the big episode preceding it — is through its connection with Ovid. The cousin or scholar, who is their guide, is writing a Spanish Ovid, and the explanation given about the rivers of Spain and their names is in the spirit of the Metamorphoses. This scholar is another satire of students and intellectuals, like the one that we seen in the case of Sansón Carrasco; this is even more extreme, this is a really ridiculous scholar who is trying to find out who had the first cold in history, if you remember. And so, I also said that in Part II of the Quixote Cervantes seems to be signaling as his sources Homer, Virgil, Ovid and, as we shall see, Dante, as if claiming that his work is their worthy successor: that he’s in their league, as it were, in common parlance. I will speak about Virgil when we get to meet Altisidora, the character that you will meet and find very amusing, who is a version of Dido.
Now, this descent into the cave has antecedents in the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and the Divine Comedy, of course. Although there are also sources in chivalric romances, this is an adventure on a higher literary level, this is not just going back to episodes in the chivalric romances but Homer, Virgil, Dante. There are, of course, also traditional stories about going into caves in all cultures and in all literatures. If you have read your American literature you see that in Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn, and so forth, there are episodes where the characters go into caves, but here, I think, the sources are those that I mentioned. Going down into the cave has, of course, deep psychological resonances, having to do with Don Quixote’s sexuality, and concomitantly his fear of death. As he enters the cave he has to walk away at the brambles covering the entrance in actions that are symbolic or reminiscent of a deflowering, and the blackbirds that fly away in fright are clear intimations of death; they are bad omens; they have kind of a Hitchcock-like air to me, I mean, to modern readers. They, I’m sure, remind you of that very frightening Hitchcock film The Birds.
What Don Quixote experiences in the cave is a dream and, of course, this aligns it with dream literature. This is clear by his being asleep when he is pulled back up, and from the story he tells about falling asleep when he sits down on the coiled up rope within the cave. Don Quixote says that he wakes up from that sleep, but it is obvious that he awakens within the dream, that this is a dream within a dream, another mirror effect. What the dream allows is for the untrammeled emergence of Don Quixote’s deepest fears in the form of stories related to his fantasies or drawn from his fantasies. It is as if he had been administered a drug, a truth serum, or as if he had relaxed on the psychoanalyst couch, and allowed himself to free associate.
The story of Durandarte and Belerma is drawn from the Carolingian cycle. Remember that I mentioned the various cycles of the chivalric romances and the epics and the Carolingian is from Charlemagne, and so forth. They’re drawn from the Carolingian cycle and seems to have embedded not only the fear of death, but the fear of castration. All of the characters, except for Merlin, are from the ballads of the Carolingian and Arthurian cycle: King Arthur, Charlemagne. The characters are supposed to be dead and everyone is in mourning, and the procession is kind of a mournful procession as — like a burial. Durandarte’s body in the story has his heart removed and sent to Belerma as a symbol of his undying love; this is the original story. He asked when he died to have this heart removed and sent to his beloved. Here his castrated cadaver, as it were, appears as the statue grazing his own tomb unable to speak. But the veracity of the story is compromised, or grotesquely guaranteed, by Montesinos’ explanation that he has had to salt the heart so that it will not rot and begin to smell. This destroys the fantasy. I mean, if this great hero has his heart sent to his beloved, one never thinks that this heart will be subject to the laws of nature, this is fantasy world; but here, that fantasy is destroyed and the story — the veracity of the story, in other words, can be guaranteed by the fact that they have to salt it so that it won’t rot. Natural laws threaten the story’s verisimilitude. A jerk-beef heart is not the same as the heart that symbolizes love, courage and masculinity. The heart, of course, has all of these connotations. So if you think of it as being made of jerk-beef all of those connotations are destroyed or become grotesque.
Although time is flexible within the episode its effects on flesh are present; that is, impinging other aspects. I say that the time is flexible as was in the episode because, how long was Don Quixote down? The scholar and Sancho say an hour, at most; he says three days! And then there is the issue of how long ago these stories occurred, hundreds of years ago, yet these characters are there. So time within the story is flexible, as time tends to be, as we know, in dreams. We know now from modern studies in dreams that stories that seem to take a long time actually take a few seconds in a dream, and that there is this compression that Freud talks about, how a dream compresses stories in a very short time. This is intimated here, in that Don Quixote says that he’s been there for three days and they say only an hour. But the effect of time on flesh is evident. Now, this detail of the effect of time on flesh reveals Don Quixote’s own doubts about the legitimacy of chivalric legends. I mean, remember, this is a story he himself is telling, so if the story comes up in this subconscious it’s because he has doubts about the legitimacy of the chivalric legends. The stories, those of the chivalric legends, violate natural law, hence they are fantastic, as other characters have been telling him all along, and all of this seems to have had an effect on him.
Now, Don Quixote is recognized as a great knight, a constant that began with Sansón Carrasco’s revelation of the existence of Part I, and this is something that will happen over and again in Part II, that he is recognized as a great knight, but in this case by character’s whose own existence is very, very doubtful, and that he himself will doubt from now on by asking others anxiously, like Maese Pedro’s — ;like Master Peter’s monkey, if what happened in the cave was real, and by insisting that Sancho believe that it was real and striking deals with him: “I’ll believe that if you believe the cave of Montesinos,” it shows that he’s not that sure about it. So their recognition; that is, the recognition of his being a great knight by these characters is hardly an assurance. I am underlining these doubts that the stories reveal about his own fantasies, but the most disturbing part of the story is the appearance of Dulcinea in the guise of the ugly wench that Sancho tried to make him believe was his lady. This is — we know from Freud, Freud’s great book, The Interpretation of Dreams that was published in 1900, when he talks about the remains of the day, how a dream picks up elements from the previous day and incorporates them into stories, and this is sort of the remains of the day.
Now, the appearance of this wench convinces Sancho that Don Quixote is insane because he was the author of that charade, but it also shows to what extent that episode of the three peasant women has shaken Don Quixote’s own beliefs and probed deep into the sources of his own desires for Dulcinea and of his invention of Dulcinea. This peasant Dulcinea who smells of raw garlic, as you remember, as she smelled of sweat in Sancho’s earlier story about her, when he said: ‘I got next to her and she smelled a little bit because she was pitching hay or whatever it was.’ This peasant Dulcinea is, I think, is close to Don Quixote’s own real desire for Aldonza Lorenzo, the original Dulcinea. It seems to be the repressed desire for a vulgar physically strong sexually aggressive younger woman who is the very opposite, in fact, is the co-relative opposite of his idealization of her. The more vulgar this woman of his desires is, the more idealized she will become in his fantasy.
Also, when asked for a loan by her in this hilarious, hilarious part of the story — the last thing you imagine is for Dulcinea asking for a loan from Don Quixote — which is going to be backed up, by the way, the guarantee is an intimate — an inner garment of Dulcinea’s; this is a very elaborate underskirt of sorts, and it’s going to be the guarantee — I mean, these things are highly sexualized. But Don Quixote is short two reales: she wants six, but he has only four left to give her. This is a clear sign of his deep and repressed fear of sexual inadequacy — it couldn’t be clearer; you don’t have to be Freud — which may be the source of his heroic fantasies. He’s old, he feels sexually inadequate, so he wants to imagine himself a young vigorous knight who can go and fight and seduce maidens.
So Sancho’s invention in the episode of the enchanted Dulcinea has dug deep into Don Quixote’s dreads and into the source of his fantasies. In this topsy-turvy world of the cave there are eerie images of death, also. I already mentioned the blackbirds at the mouth of the cave. Durandarte’s cadaver posing as a statue on its own sarcophagus is the eeriest of them all and the uncanniest, it’s an inversion. The statue on a sarcophagus presumably represents the body of the dead person within it — I’m sure you have been to European cathedrals, where you go and you find all of these sarcophagi and you see on top the recumbent statue of the person within it, kings and all of that who are usually like this with their hands like this, and they have their swords near them and all of that — I find that eerie enough to begin with, but in any case — here, however, the cadaver is the statue; nature has replaced art, or has become art. Do you understand? Instead of having a representation you have literally the cadaver on top of the sarcophagus.
But let us not forget that we are dealing here with death and also in the realm of temporality; if you remember that Durandarte’s heart was salted so that it would not smell. How can the cadaver replace the statue and not rot like its heart? Art has been taken over by death, too; this is what the intimation is. Nothing, not even art, is immune from death in this world of the cave. There may be a pun, a ghoulish pun embedded here: sarcophagus comes from the Greek sarcos, flesh and phagein, to eat. The sarcophagus literally eats flesh, the flesh of the dead body that it contains, but here the dead body has escaped to become its own statue. This is a very baroque image. We will meet — we will find another sarcophagus that we will be discussing in the course of the next few chapters.
Chapter 2. The Descent into Montesinos Cave: Desengaño and the Destruction of Illusions [00:20:45]
Now, the stories and images within Montesinos cave highlight the central topic of Part II desengaño. Desengaño, as we have seen can mean the destruction of all illusions. When Don Quixote comes to, after emerging from the cave, he declares, in what is a classic expression of desengaño, and this is a quote:
He says a bit later, quote: “I awaked, and found myself, I knew not by what means, in the midst of the finest, pleasantest, and most delightful meadow, that nature could create, or the most pregnant fancy imagined.”
[Unquote]. This is the locus amoenus of Renaissance, pastoral literature that I have mentioned before — you remember the locus amoenus into which Rocinante wanders and falls in love with the mares and all of that. It is a topic of Renaissance literature as the most pleasant of place, and this is where he lands, and presumably where he has his dream. Desengaño, as I have been saying, means to peel away the illusion, the delusion. It is a form of self-analysis, of recognition comparable to the one in today’s terms achieved through psychoanalysis. Don Quixote seems to have dived into this own subconscious. Is this a regressus ad uterum, an atavistic return to the womb? That’s the Latin way of saying it, return to the womb, regressus ad uterum. It’s an atavistic return to the womb; I mean, it’s trying to get back into the mother’s womb, seeking solace and refuge. Don Quixote’s descent, as we have seen, makes him look harshly upon himself. It does not completely shake his beliefs or dispel his madness, but it is a serious blow, and from now on he will act saner. How can it have been pleasurable, however? Only if one thinks that once in the cave he was at least in the living presence of his fictions — this was pleasurable — and that the disillusionment became repressed, as he experienced it. When he met all of these elements that threatened his disillusions he repressed them immediately, and that — as we tend to repress unpleasant experiences — that he was not aware, as we readers are, that what he experienced threatened his beliefs. So he comes back with doubts, but are not conscious doubts.
Now, everything seems to converge in the scene of the Montesinos cave: Don Quixote’s belief in the authenticity of the romances of chivalry and the reality of what he sees when he sees windmills, for instance, are questioned. The topics of the courtly love tradition, which had filtered into the romances of chivalry tumble through literalization by their being put through the requirements of natural law. I already alluded several times to Durandarte’s salted heart; Belerma, for her part, may have looked under the weather because she had her menstrual period, thought not really it is explained, because the problem was that she is menopausal. Real time, and with it, periodic bodily functions, age and aging and decay have crept into the world of fiction contained in the cave. No harsher way to dispel the idealization of a Renaissance beauty than to imagine her menstruating or going through menopause, meaning that she’s already aged; imagine Botticelli’s Venus’s with those problems, it’s grotesque! It’s brilliant; however, to subject these idealizations to temporality, and temporality here means that the age, that they suffer a menstrual period. Why would Dulcinea need a loan? It is said that need or necessity is everywhere in passing; the world of magic is invaded by needs and physical laws and what ensues are grotesque images.
Now, there are many literary antecedents to the cave of Montesinos episode, and I have already mentioned: Homer, Virgil and Dante, but the originality of the episode is not so much the descent into the cave as that it reveals Don Quixote’s subconscious. This is Cervantes’ way of showing us the knight’s mind from within, unencumbered by reason. As such, it seems to be a better device than the soliloquy in Shakespeare or in Calderón, which are parallel devices to show what a character’s thoughts are: “to be or not to be”, and so forth, and in Calderón “¡Ay, mísero de mí!” — this is from the Life is a Dream. It is also more modern and acceptable, this device in Cervantes, to contemporary readers, it seems to me, because no one goes around delivering soliloquies that are perfectly structured rhetorically. I’m sure you haven’t heard any of your friends going around delivering soliloquies that are so poetically well wrought.
But telling a dream is a common activity, not only to psychoanalysts, you tell your dreams to your friends. In the episode there is a grotesque combination of fantasy, and not just reality but the possible, all having to do with the decay of human flesh. But as I have suggested, isn’t this also a tale of castration fear? These are the repressed figures in Don Quixote’s mind. Peter Dunn, who was a very good hispanist, a British hispanist who taught for many years, at the end of his career at Wesley University nearby, wrote the following in a very good article on this episode. Actually, Peter Dunn wrote this article in Spanish and I’m translating him into English; these are the baroque inversions that you can get in this course, too. This is what Peter Dunn said in my own translation into English:
This is anticipating the death of Alonso Quijano at the end of the book. Anthony Cascardi, an American hispanist, links the episode to the dream argument in Descartes and makes quite a few valuable observations about Don Quixote as a whole, particularly about the entire debate about the relationship between reality and fantasy. He says:
In short — Cascardi tends to be a little too philosophical — in short, that stories, that literature are a form of knowledge and a method of approaching knowledge of the world and of ourselves and a way to understand both the world and the workings of our own minds. Now, psychoanalysis knows this, and this is the reason why Freud availed himself of figures like the Oedipus myth, to name mental processes, and, of course, Freud acknowledged that his sources in the development and invention of psychoanalysis, as he was really the inventor of it, were literary, and that he learned more from literature than from the nineteenth century science that preceded him. So the point is that these stories in Montesinos cave show that stories are valid ways of approaching knowledge, knowledge of the world and knowledge of our own minds. And this is what this episode, I think, suggests brilliantly, independently, and also, of course, within the structure of the novel.
Chapter 3. Master Peter’s Puppet Show: Ginés de Pasamonte and Lope de Vega [00:32:14]
So much, for the time being, for the episode of Montesinos’ cave, to which we will probably have to allude a number of times in succeeding lectures. And we move now to the second important episode that I want to discuss today, and that is Master Peter’s puppet show. Now, I have made a crude drawing on the blackboard that will help me explain the episode; it is sketchy, I understand; it is more Picasso than Velázquez, let’s put it that way, but you can recognize some of the figures: that, of course is Ginés de Pasamonte, that is the speaker, the boy who speaks; that is Don Quixote; that is Sancho, and then the rest of the audience, and, of course, the puppet show as best as I could render it.
Now, the reappearance of Ginés de Pasamonte establishes a concrete continuity with Part I. Other than Sancho, the women of Don Quixote’s house, the priest and the barber, Ginés is the only character from Part I who comes back in Part II. If before Ginés was a rogue picaresque author, a Mateo Alemán — remember Mateo Alemán, the author of Guzmán de Alfarache; remember that I said in that episode of the galley slaves when he says he has written his life, he’s a Mateo Alemán. If before Ginés was a rogue picaresque author, a Mateo Alemán, he is now as Master Peter, a miniature playwright, a Lope de Vega in miniature — remember, Lope de Vega, Cervantes’ enemy and the great Spanish playwright of the period. As both, Alemán and Lope, Ginés stands for the modern author, whose not an aristocrat or a cleric and has to earn a living from his craft. Lope liked to put the “de Vega” in his last name to pretend that he was aristocratic, and he made up fables about his family and all of that, but he was not.
Ginés also stands for Cervantes himself, and the whole episode is like a laboratory for fiction to carry out experiments about fiction, as Cervantes tends to do, and we have seen. Ginés is wily; he does not respect literary tradition or rules, and shows the limitations imposed by the medium of literature. Like the imagined friend of the 1605 prologue — remember the imagined friend whom Cervantes says comes to visit him and helps him write that prologue — this modern author does not have a conventional or a deep classical education and has to rely on compendia and books of familiar quotations for his erudition. Lope was known for this, to get his information here and there pretend that he had read a lot. He read a lot, but not in the way that humanists had read a great deal, and he made it up the way that the friend tells Cervantes in the prologue, to just go and get this book and that and then just make a list of sources in alphabetical order, and that’s the way these modern authors operate.
Now, Ginés has now one eye covered. This is why I have — well, actually I have the wrong eye covered; it’s supposed to be the left eye that is covered, so, to be true to him, we’ll uncover this eye and cover this eye, the left eye. He has one covered, presumably the one that pulled in and made him cross-eyed, because he knows that this is a distinctive trait that is dangerous for him to display. He can be spotted, described and nabbed by the Holy Brotherhood, so he has to disguise himself; this is why he has to cover — it’s sort of his signature, his body signature which is that he’s cross-eyed, like having a prominent scar or something. Remember the description of Don Quixote that the trooper reads when he’s about to arrest him, towards the end of Part I, he has a description; so a description of Ginés will probably begin by saying: he is cross-eyed, so he has to cover that eye to be safe. Ginés is a fugitive from justice. Remember, he is one of the galley slaves that Don Quixote set free, so whatever other crimes he committed to make him be a galley slave, he has also escaped. Hence, I quote: “I had forgot to tell you [this is from the book] that this same Master Peter had his left eye and almost half his cheek covered with a patch of green taffeta, a sign that something ailed all that side of his face.”
That’s from the text of the Quixote. But being one-eyed, as it were, even if it is faked, suggests fresh restrictions that impinge his art because of his limited perception of reality. I am sort of glossing over my article in the Casebook that you have read, presumably, by now. This deformity also makes him look furtive, dangerous, sneaky, and, of course, aesthetically interesting, like the characters in Part I and those in Velázquez’s paintings. He is no Renaissance idealized model of a man, although it is said several times that he is a gallant and good looking man, but he’s cross-eyed. Before, Ginés converging side access distorted reality — we have gone over this.
Now, he lacks depth perception, which is very suggestive to the show that he will stage at the inn. Ironically, by eliminating one eye, Ginés is overcoming the problem of non-converging sidelines; it is a radical way of doing so but now he lacks perspective. Remember, that bi-ocular sight you see with two eyes, therefore you have potentially a double vision; and there are, because of this, there are, in some cultures, deities that overcome this by having a pineal eye, which is an eye in the middle of the forehead that sort of serves to mediate between these two. So, in the case of Ginés, he is eliminating this eye to have only one eye, and therefore only one vision, where before, as a cross-eyed, his access did not meet: they were supposed to meet here but they don’t quite meet, and therefore he saw it in a distorted way, but now with only one eye, as we know, he loses depth.
Chapter 4. Master Peter’s Puppet Show: A Protracted Experiment on Mimesis [00:40:53]
Now, the whole episode of the puppet theater is besides yet another critique of Lope de Vega, a protracted experiment on mimesis like that of Princess Micomicona, and not just in literary terms but also in pictorial terms. But as a critique of Lope Cervantes, again, harps upon the carelessness with which Lope used history to write his plays. Remember the episode with the Canon of Toledo where there was a protracted discussion and critique of Lope for just grabbing historical elements pell-mell without being very faithful to history. When Don Quixote protests in the middle of the show that it is wrong to have Moors ringing bells instead of kettle drums, Master Peter answers with what contemporaries were surely not to miss as an allusion to Lope de Vega. It says:
Now, this is as clear an allusion to Lope de Vega as could be made, and remember that Avellaneda, as I mentioned before, may have been a follower and a defender of Lope de Vega, and this is why he wrote in his prologue such insulting comments about Cervantes. Now, as a laboratory of mimesis the show that Maese Pedro and his assistant put on is of a conceptual complexity worthy of the Velázquez of Las Meninas and The Spinners, which you have seen here. To begin with, we have that the performance of the puppets is not enough in itself, and that Master Peter’s figures and props require a supplemental oral commentary or narrative executed by his assistant: this is the assistant. I put a little balloon here, as in comic books, because this is what he’s saying. Of course, if I may be allowed to use his convention from comics. So he needs the supplemental narrative by the trujamán, was the word of the period. But the visual and verbal representations do not harmonize properly, and both Don Quijote and Ginés have to admonish the boy, who is the author’s supplementary voiceover. It’s like a voiceover in a film, but it is as if the voiceover and the film images didn’t quite mesh. It is a dual performance of the author’s invention.
That is, the author’s invention, which is Ginés, here, is manifested in two ways — which is manifested visually and orally at the same time, hoping that they will complement each other. But they do not mesh satisfactorily, as if there were an inherent flaw in the recital that reflects the awkwardness of the theatrical routine. It’s very awkward to represent the stories with these material objects that represent human beings, so what we have here is a very flawed combination of the oral and the visual trying to combine, to produce a performance, a satisfactory performance. To produce mimesis, representation, and it is a critique of mimesis and representation; this is what I’m trying to say. Don Quixote’s correction to the boy is significantly made in the language of geometry as applied to painting. Don Quixote says: “Here Don Quixote said in a loud voice: ‘Boy, boy, on with your story in a straight line, and leave your curves and transversals: for, to come at the truth of a fact, there is often need of proof upon proof’.”
[Unquote]. What could seem like a mere rhetorical display on the part of the knight is, on the contrary, of surprising propriety in the context of the episode, because the whole effect of the puppet show depends on a visual trompe-l’oeil — it’s a French expression for a trick, trompe-l’oeil, you use it in English; trampantojo, is an old work in Spanish, it’s the same, “trampa” and “ojos,” trampantojos. We don’t use it any more in Spanish, we use trompe-l’oeil, the French word, most of the time, but it’s based on a visual trompe-l’oeil or a visual trick based on perspective, exactly the way that a painting is organized according to geometrical rules that produce the effect of mass and depth — I hope you follow this: Geometrical rules of the painting, we’ve talked about the book by Alberti, produce the effect of mass and depth by distance. Master Peter himself, by the way, agrees with Don Quixote, and his admonition to the boy also appeals to the language of geometry and painting: “Boy, none of your flourishes, but do what the gentlemen bids you; for that is the surest way.”
“Flourishes” is “dibujos,” or drawings, in the original. Don Quixote and Ginés’ words say more than they know a common occurrence in Cervantes, as we have seen many times. The puppet show’s effect, its verisimilitude, is based on a question of proportions and perspective, and has a great deal to do with a straight a line that Don Quixote demands that the boy narrator follow without much success. It is a metaphor, of course, to apply straight line to how a story unfolds, a narrative unfolds. The narrative straight line and the straight line that can be drawn from the spectators to the show are related. That is, this is the straight line from the spectators to the show as they look at it, and I’m relating that to the straight line in the story that Don Quixote refers to when he admonishes the boy. If the spectators look directly at the theater to engage in its fantasy, they have to disregard that at such a short distance human figures, horses and buildings, should appear so small, as if they were much further away.
Perspective has to be assumed as if different geometric relations between the public and the tiny actors obtained, as if the geometric physical relations between the spectators and the show were different than they are because they’re so close. The narrator goes through “curves and transversals,” as Don Quixote calls them, to achieve the illusion of simultaneous action taking place, and to hold the spectators attention and approval in the same way that the theater has to abuse the rules of geometry to stage the action — abuses the rules of geometry to stage the action in what is presumably a greater territory, but it is compressed on the stage, and the proportion between the various elements, the various — the actors and the horses and all of that, are not followed. Ginés cannot vary the figures dimensions as they come closer or further away from the public, the dimensions are a given that cannot be changed. This whole ensemble of virtual lines, like those in Velázquez’s painting, hold up the fiction and its props at the same time in front of the audience.
The audience here is aware both of the fiction and of the props that are there to make up the fiction, is what I’m trying to say, as in Velázquez’s paintings. To sustain the illusion the narrator not only avails himself figuratively of the geometric figures, but also of the rhetoric of visions repeating the anaphora like — anaphora is a rhetorical figure when you repeat a word or a turn of phrase: “let us not forget…, let us not forget…, ” the orator will repeat something like that; that is an anaphora, and here the language of visions in medieval literature used this figure and the boy says: “Pray observe…,” “See him now…,” “Turn your eyes toward…,” “Now behold…,” “Do you not see…,” “Behold now…,” “Observe that…” What he’s really telling them, with all of these repetitions is: but don’t actually see what is really happening, overlook it to be able to accept the fiction.
Within the very illusion of a show we have a kind of mirror duplication of the problem of perspective and vanishing point. Remember that I talked about vanishing point in Las Meninas about the gentleman who’s at the very end, who is literally leaving and vanishing, so there would seem to be a pun there. This becomes literal when Melisandra and Don Gaiferos, who are on the same horse, gallop desperately running away from the Moors towards “la línea de Francia,” towards the line dividing France from Spain, the border. So if they are on the horse, here, they’re moving towards the back of the stage towards a vanishing point, so this is literalized here the vanishing point in the fiction, that is being depicted in the story.
Now, all of these tricks manage to confuse Don Quixote, of course, who predictably lunges towards the action to participate in it, caught in a net of rhetorical and geometrical figures that have blinded him not letting him see the difference in size between his own body and those of his enemies: he has lost the sense of proportion, and this is what encourages him other than his madness, of course, to participate in the action. This is, by the way, this scene of Don Quixote lunging on to the stage, is the one that Orson Welles used in his attempted film on the Quixote. Orson Welles never finished his Quixote, but there are parts that he filmed, and I spoke about them in a symposium on Orson Welles here, a couple of years ago, and got to see some of them, and this is one of them, and what he has, the scene takes place in a movie, a movie that is being shown outdoors, actually, and Don Quixote climbs on the stage and slashes at the screen in this modern adaptation of this famous scene.
I think that Cervantes projects himself in Ginés Master Peter as author of modern fictions. As he had already done in the galley slaves episode in Part I, to not overlook that Cervantes was also maimed, like Ginés is cross-eyed and Cervantes, as you remember, had a lesion on his left arm that he couldn’t use. Ginés Master Peter is struggling with the hardships of authorship, as it were, by adjusting his ability to perceive reality, hence to represent it. Making himself one-eyed, Master Peter manages to prevent the problems created by his cross-eyedness. Remember that with two eyes, let alone their being crossed, there are two visions, which may or may not coincide, but certainly will not if he is cross-eyed; we have gone over this. This is the cause of his not being able to foresee and ending to his autobiography–remember? He says, ‘how can my autobiography be finished if my life is not?’ You could project that as a problem of vision, too, if autobiography goes this way and life that way, and you have a vision that doesn’t allow for a coincidence of the two, that infinitely receding end of the fiction, or infinitely to the end of his life, could be seen as part of his problems with his eyes.
With only one eye, however, Master Peter would be able to look straight through only one visual access, but this is not a happy solution either. To compensate for his loss of one-half of the visual field he must look sideways: if he has his eye covered he has to look sideways, askew in his head. He cannot achieve a harmonious vision, and he makes himself more awkward and interesting, hence he cannot represent reality properly. With only one eye Master Peter cannot create a perspective that will correspond to reason, to follow Alberti’s treatises on painting that I mentioned. His reading of literary tradition is also askew, like the tilt of his head. We also know that with only one eye he would also lose his depth perception, which would disastrously affect his capacity to create perspective. His rewriting of the Melisendra and Gaiferos story is fraught with errors, like Lope de Vega’s plays which Don Quixote tries to correct, as we saw.
Only that ideal reader, Alonso Quijano, who, instead of writing romances of chivalry tried to act one out, can see straight in the lucid nights of his library and perceive fictions that are harmonious and very similar within themselves and to himself. Don Quixote, in the darkness of Juan Palomeque’s inn, by slashing the wineskins, makes the various fictional levels converge and resolve the conflictive stories. It is the ability to fuse all of those non-converging levels of fiction that makes Cervantes such a great modern author, whose fictions will not destroy themselves from within, as Ginés’ does here. Cervantes’ is a happy cross-eyedness, because the various lines do not fuse in his imaginative world, yet cohere in some way. To him, the origin of vision is always already a double vision, with irony being congenital to it, with representation depending on it.
I like to see this whole episode of Master Peter’s puppet show as an allegory of the whole of the Quixote, with Cervantes the author hidden inside there, but outside his fiction, which he controls through strings with a voice projected by an agent, Cide Hamete Benengeli or his translators, whom he cannot quite control either. The story itself, like that of Melisandra and Gaiferos, is drawn from literary tradition but distorted and rearranged as needed, and the public, we, the readers, are drawn into this fiction, but not completely aware as we are of the artifice of the whole construct. I am moved, romantic that I am, with Cervantes’ identification with Ginés, the fugitive from justice, roaming through Spain struggling to make a living with this fiction making contraption.
Chapter 5. Master Peter’s Puppet Show: A Take on Modern Literature [00:57:56]
Now, Cervantes wraps up this take on modern literature and its labors in the brilliant scene that closes the episode of Master Peter’s puppet show, the one in which aided by Sancho and the innkeeper Don Quixote compensates the puppeteer for the figurines that he has smashed. The value of each broken piece depends on his or her relative importance in the fiction, not on its material value based on the stuff of which it is made, plus the workmanship.
Charlemagne is worth a great deal because of who he is in the story, for instance. The real and the fictional worlds cut through each other here. Real money is being paid in restitution for damages, but the amount of the compensation is figured on fictional values — Do you understand what I mean? I mean, a slave, or a peasant, or a servant would not — a figurine, even if it’s beautiful and big, would not cost as much as that of the king. What Cervantes seems to be underlining here is the value of fictional characters as creations by their author. How much would a Don Quixote or a Sancho be worth to Cervantes? How much a Hamlet to Shakespeare? How much would it take to compensate García Márquez for Coronel Aureliano Buendía, or Borges for Pierre Menard?
These are fictional entities, but now they have a real monetary value in a world in which literature is becoming a commodity, without ceasing to be, at the same time, one of the great expressions of the human spirit. This scene is reminiscent of the one in Part I towards the end when restitutions are made to the barber whose basin has been taken, to the innkeeper for expenses and damages and marriage vows are exchanged to make up for Fernando’s dishonest behavior towards Dorotea. It is a miniaturized scene of restitutions, a small-scale repetition of that scene in Part I. To me, it is as if Cervantes were boasting of how many ways he can rewrite episodes in Part II, and he is certainly a master puppeteer himself.
[end of transcript]Back to Top
|mp3||mov [100MB]||mov [500MB]|